When you’re applying to jobs, it’s easy to feel blocked by the long lists of qualifications and skills companies call for. Words like “engaging,” “innovating,” “data-driven,” and the need for “5+ years” experience using various tools and platforms might seem overwhelming. Before you fall into a black hole of intimidation, know that you most likely have most of the skills necessary. Sure, maybe you’ve never used a P&L management tool before, but don’t think even for a second you couldn’t learn it.
In a recent interview, I was asked whether or not I knew Photoshop, and honestly, I don’t. I told the hiring manager I didn’t have the tool and that I taught myself to use free programs to create enticing imagery I knew the audience I was creating content for would respond to, but that I’d be psyched to have the opportunity to learn and use the real thing. Some recruiters and hiring managers will want you to have specific skills under your belt and understand unique tools — but a lot of the time, they want to hear that you’re excited to learn about them. Because, at the end of the day, even the “perfect” candidate isn’t going to know everything.
A lot of the skills you already use on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s for your job or just navigating life are super transferable. So, the next time you’re applying for a gig, play up all the knowledge you’ve accumulated over the years. As underrated as it might seem at first, it’s probably what companies are looking for. Here are some examples of all the underrated skills you’ve maybe been low-key sharpening for the jobs you want.
1. Thinking ahead
If you’re the type of person who constantly thinks, “Okay, great, but what will XYZ look like in a week, or a month, or a year?” Or if you always approach anything (whether it’s your budget or a personal project) from a lens of sustainability, then you’ve got a valuable skill to sell. While it’s great to be in-the-moment and celebrate short-term wins, understanding that you need to be proactive about everything you do and knowing which actions you need to take to also be successful in the future is what will make you an awesome employee. Because chances are, you’ll have people on your team (or even your manager) who’ll be blindsided by quick wins, and they’ll need someone like you to say, “Awesome, now let’s think about this in perspective of time (or runway, budget, etc.).”
2. Your curiosity
Using your curiosity and eagerness to learn everything you possibly can about what interests you (or maybe even subjects you find boring, but ultimately useful) is honestly just as valuable (if not more) than your degree, and certainly more useful than a title. Showing your managers that you’re interested in aspects of the business that aren’t “in your lane” proves that you’re excited to grow in the company and that you’re not afraid of challenges or changes.
3. Showing empathy
Being able to truly express empathy is *so* underrated, but if you want to be an amazing co-worker and employee who people can trust, you totally need this soft skill. Not only that, but depending on what your industry is, or what position you hold, you’re likely to be put in really emotionally taxing situations. Maybe an employee is slacking or consistently missing deadlines; an empathetic person is able to suss out what the problem truly is because it’s not like people become “bad” at what they do overnight. Maybe they’re dealing with a personal problem or suffering from burn out. Communicating with folks in a way that’s actually authentic (versus calculated and manipulative) is how you can build a strong team, or cultivate a strong relationship with your manager and colleagues. I’m not saying you need to form a BFFship with everyone you work with, but doing your best to understand where people are coming from and what their perspective and mindset might be is infinitely valuable.
4. Expressing yourself clearly
You can be the most awkward person in the world and still effectively get your point across. Innately getting what it is that you want to communicate, how you want that message to be perceived, and what you’d like to get out of it so important for any and every role you’ll have at work.
5. Being polite
I’ve written about it before: I truly stand by the importance of genuine kindness and not hardening your approach just because you want to appear authoritative. Use “please” and “thank you” in your notes. Say “sorry” when you mean it, or even if it’s just a filler word that diffuses a situation or weird moment. Ask someone about their day and actually listen to them. When you email someone, start with “Hope all is well!” even if you have no freaking time. It really makes all the difference, and if you apply that in your day-to-day life, then you’ve probably noticed the effects already. People generally respond better to non-assholes (and if they don’t, maybe that’s a red flag about the work environment).
6. Knowing when to push back
So, just because you’re a nice person, doesn’t mean you’ll let anyone walk all over you. It took me forever to unlearn my pushover tendencies — I’m still not perfect. I hate conflict, and I’ll avoid it at any cost, even if it means I end up taking on more work, or letting people off more easily than they deserve. But if this is something you’ve been working on, you probably understand that your niceness has a threshold. And that there’s a time and place to communicate to others that enough is enough. Probably that time isn’t over a small detail in a spreadsheet you don’t necessarily agree with, or a co-worker making a passive-aggressive remark. That stuff isn’t worth your time. But if your manager makes a truly wrong call about something you know will impact your or your team’s performance, for instance, that’s the time to push back — and arm yourself with examples, data, or whatever it is you need to prove your point, which leads me to…
7. Citing your sources
Never in five thousand eras did I think learning how to properly cite my sources in the countless essays and term papers I wrote in school would help me in the real world, but lo and behold! All those Works Cited pages actually paid off. By citing your sources in life and at work, what I really mean is having your receipts ready when you need them. If you want to prove that a certain strategy might work, you’ll need to show your boss the numbers or the studies that prove your case. Whenever you need a budget for a project, you’ll need to back up your needs and wants with reasons that go beyond, “I think this could work,” or “Why not!”
8. Not letting it show that you’re in panic mode
Things go wrong all the time. Look at 2020! It’s a huge trash fire we never saw coming. And while we’re totally allowed to panic and cry and eat all the Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars in the freezer until there are none left, if you know how to appear totally calm in a batshit situation, that’s truly a superpower — because a lot of people just can’t. I’ve had bosses who’ve gone from zero to hundred in a matter of seconds because of a typo, and that kind of stress doesn’t actually help anyone. Even in a truly sucky situation, like a client backing out of a huge deal, or Facebook announcing they’ve completely changed their algorithm again, knowing how to diffuse bad news, go back to the drawing board, and come up with an actionable plan, is key to not just your job, but life.
9. Knowing how to present information
In so many cases in life, you need to persuade people to do the thing you want them to do even if you’re not sure they’ll go for it. And that takes great packaging of words. Whether we’re convincing our significant others it’s time to invest in a new couch, or putting together a new budget proposal, knowing how to use language in the most impactful way that will lead to a positive reaction is super vital.
10. Knowing when to let it go
No matter how much of a fighter you are, or how much you hate quitting, it’s okay to let go of things that you’re not in control of, or have proven not to be worth it. Maybe that’s a relationship that won’t give back no matter how much you’ve coaxed it to or a plant you’ve harvested months of your time and water bills in. Maybe it’s a house project that just won’t stick. At work, you’ll come across projects or initiatives that just don’t work out. And you can push and push, because that’s who you are, you are a striver and you like meeting goals. But knowing when to pull back saves you time, money, and brainpower you can be using to pursue other things that are probably way, way more worth it.
Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
Image via Pexels